AALS Section Program -- Law and Computers

Friday, January 7, 1994


Law School Internet Publishing

Larry Lessig

Information on audio files.

When Peter Martin asked me to speak on this panel, I confess, I was a bit confused about just why. I mean I'm as bright as the next person, and maybe a bit more cyber-familiar than most, but I am by no means cyber-genius, and no matter how hard I try, I will not make the next major hypertext or internet leap.

I was thinking all this in fact just at the same time that I trying to explain to my dean, through email, why his email messages were not getting to me. I was in Hungary, and because our email system has no forwarding function, I had an email address in Hungary different from my address in Chicago. Explaining the idea of two addresses, and sending mail to the correct address, was turning out to be an extraordinarily difficult task. Just as I felt the peak of this frustration, it struck me exactly why I was the person Peter wanted on this panel. I am from the University of Chicago. While there a bunch of smart people at the University of Chicago, we are, I am sad to report, something of a technological backwater. While our neighbors to the north, Kent Law School, are designing computer aided instruction and electronic casebook classes, we have just mastered (or not mastered) electronic mail, and file transfer over a network. Peter Martin wanted me to talk about how a law school could use the internet because he knew that if I could convince you that Chicago could do it, then you would believe that anyone could.

Well in fact I believe that anyone can, and not just because Chicago did. I believe that anyone can, and that practically everyone should. For what internet publishing offers is a chance to make available to everyone those resources that are unique to a particular law school, and to do so in a way that is relatively cheap and easy to maintain.

Our publishing is done through a Gopher, which we have installed on a Next - hence our address, lawnext.uchicago.edu. For locals, Lawnext provides a simple set of bookmarks for law related locations on the net, including Peter Martin's mine at Cornell, as well as the other riches available elsewhere. But the value of Lawnext is not just what we take from others. Our value added comes from archives that we have that others might find useful.

The two archives that we have and hope to publish are first those related to the University of Chicago's Center for the Study of Constitutionalism in Eastern Europe, and second, those related to the papers of Karl Llewellyn. We have made a start so far mainly on the first, so let me describe a bit of what this involves.

One of the Center's aims is to collect an extensive archive of materials surrounding the various transformations in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as a number of the former Soviet Republics. These materials include drafts of the emerging constitutions, local newspaper articles, legal opinions addressing constitutionally relevant issues, and basically anything else that is thought relevant. The material is collected primarily by local corespondents, hired by the Center. One copy of the archive is being kept in Budapest, and one in Chicago.

In addition to this archive, the local correspondents also write regular reports about issues of transition in their respective countries. And finally the Center publishes a review - available for free to anyone who sends in a request - called the Eastern European Constitutional Review. The Review includes a report from each country, covering the recent developments in that countries, as well as articles and special features covering issue from the region generally.

It is the aim of the center to publish as much of this material as is possible, but for reasons that will become apparent, this is not an easy task. We have been able to put the review on-line, as well as occasional reports that do not get published in the review. We have yet to decide how best to publish the balance of the material from the archive, and the problems here should be obvious. Much of this material is published in Cyrillic; and much of the value of the material comes from the marginalia it contains. We have, for example, marked up drafts of constitutions from a number of the countries of the former east block, and obviously, publishing these while preserving the full value of the edits is not an easy task.

What the solution to publishing the full archive will be is still unclear. But I think there is a useful lesson from our experience with the Center nonetheless. It is that one can begin before all the plans have been made. To complete the publication project for the full center will require a far greater investment than we have so far made; but it will also occur at a time when technology will most likely have made another large leap. What we did was begin with what we could, and move on when it becomes feasible to move on.

The second area we will soon publish ties to the Llewellyn archives. Llewellyn was an important a part of Chicago's history, and in our library is a vast collection of his materials, fairly unknown to most inside and out. We hope soon to begin the publication process by posting a listing of the archive, as well as a digitized rendition of four of Llewellyn's last lectures at Chicago.

Already we have put up a snippet from one of his speeches - one that I think captures beautifully the person Llewellyn was.

One important lesson that we have not yet learned in this has been a problem with maintenance. The quickest way to get a system up on the net is for the law school's computer person to do it him or her self. The surest way to assure a system falls out of date is to rely on the computer person to update it. What we have found is a need to train library staff personnel, and personnel from the center, actually maintain the archives on the Next. Otherwise, those with an interest in maintaining the system current are not those with the power to keep them current.

What the internet provides here is a chance for a type of generosity (again, a big leap for a Chicago school) and an opportunity for a large research reward. Certainly each law school has assets that others could usefully share, and Internet will provide a very inexpensive way to carry those resources to a practically unlimited audience.


Larry Lessig
Lawrence Lessig is an Assistant Professor of Law from the University of Chicago. He graduated from the Yale Law School, and clerked for Judge Richard Posner and Justice Antonin Scalia. He teaches constracts and constitutional law, and also heads the faculty computer group. His research intersts include legal theory, contracts, and the constitutional law of cyberspace.
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